I visited Winters High School in Winters, California, on a whiplash rainy day in early December. The so-called Pineapple Express, the intense rainstorm that drenched Northern California, was soaking the walnut and almond groves, filling dry creekbeds with raging waters, and starting conversations about the likelihood of the rains offsetting the effects of the intense multi-year drought.
Winters High is home base to about 500 students, within a rural agricultural community of about 8000. About two-thirds of the students are Hispanic, 30 percent white, and the rest a variety. Just about all the kids in town attend the school; in fact most of the kids in town have been together in the same class since kindergarten.
Besides growing nuts, area farmers grow stone fruit, grapes for wine, olive trees, gorgeous vegetables and citrus. The famous agriculture campus at the University of California at Davis is east of Winters about 12 miles. Winters is bigger than nearby Esparto, with its small but casino-wealthy Native American tribe (which is a strong supporter of its public library, by the way) some 15 miles north. And it is way bigger than Yolo, population 450 and 25 miles to the northeast, also appropriately (and perhaps affectionately) referred to as Little Yolo, to distinguish it from the surrounding Yolo County. Driving from one town to another, you pass groves, fields, storage silos and distribution centers.
As a supplement to its standard academic instruction, the school has started a modified version of the “career academies, ” the career technical education programs, which Jim wrote about here in Camden County, Georgia. In the 2400-student Georgia school, core academic content is infused into the career and technical courses. In smaller Winters, with fewer resources and teachers to go around, the core courses and specialty track courses co-exist, with teachers doing as much as they can to meld them together.